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Can I Get Legally Married If My Partner Is In The Military?

Scales of JusticeHello again, Friends!

Our reader questions have started rolling in! “Zoe” writes:

“My girlfriend and I are engaged, but she's in the military. Since you can’t be [openly] gay in the military, how is it possible for us to get married without the military finding out?”

What could be more timely than a question on the bane of our military friends’ existence, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)? Lately, there’s barely a day that goes by without some press on the 1993 law that prohibits openly gay and lesbian members from serving in our nation’s armed services and, worse, permits their discharge for nothing more than being out. One day DADT is being enforced, the next day it’s not.

Our guess it that the pendulum on DADT’s enforcement will continue to swing until its repeal. And while the good news is that there is talk of repealing DADT (and Emily and I are hopeful that soon our clients won’t have to worry about this discriminatory law at all, nevermind the topography of how to avoid its pitfalls), there are detractors. So, the bottom line is that our LGBT service members have a lot at stake for their families and their careers as they consider a walk down the aisle.

The short answer to Zoe’s question is that participating in a same-sex marriage (or participating in a same-sex civil union or registering as domestic partners, for that matter) puts your military career at risk.

Whenever you create a public record of your same-sex commitment (and all of these various state-sanctioned unions create public records), you risk being found out and brought up on disciplinary charges that could result in, ultimately, a discharge for the LGBT servicemember – regardless of the length and extent of your commitment to our country’s military or, even, your previously impeccable record.

So, before you get married, you may want to think about whether the risk is worth it for your family – we know folks who’ve decided not to get married for just that reason and we know folks who have decided the risk was worth taking. Each family is different – make sure you make the right decision for yours.

If you have more questions on this complicated area of the law and life, Service Members Legal Defense Network is one place for more answers. Of course, we welcome your questions, too, and encourage you to ask them before your big day.

Legally Yours, Heather & Emily

McCabe Russell, PA

Heather McCabe and Emily Russell are family law practitioners who regularly serve the LGBT community in all kinds of legal affairs – from adoptions to dissolutions/divorces. McCabe has taught family law and legal writing and has been on the faculty at Georgetown Law, American University, and University of Baltimore. Russell worked as a lobbyist before coming to the law. Whether through document drafting, mediation, collaborative law, or litigation, McCabe and Russell are committed to the creation and security of the unique families they serve.